A couple of years ago, a company called Lightpix Labs came out with the stylish and compact FlashQ wireless triggers, for which you can read my extensive review here. Small and minimalist, the FlashQs are a great option for basic off-camera flash with compact and mirrorless cameras.
Since then, the manufacturer successfully raised funds on Indiegogo for a companion product, the FlashQ Q20, a small flash that has a 2.4GHz radio receiver built inside. British distributor UKphotodistro sent me a copy of the Q20 to test. So, is it any good? Let’s find out.
First impressions and build quality
The Lightpix Labs FlashQ Q20 isn’t quite like anything I have seen before. The main thing that has been prioritised here is size, while still packing in plenty of useful features in an unusual and rather clever design. Most speedlights have a ‘cobra’ shape with a swivelling head, whereas the Q20 is shaped like a cuboid. It is really tiny.
My unit is white, but the Q20 is also available in black. The FlashQ triggers and receivers are also available in pink, but the Q20 isn’t, probably because—though it would look brilliant—it might induce a colour cast.
On the front you’ll find the flash tube, a continuous LED lamp and the optical slave sensor (the little black dot). Like some other cheap small flashes, the Q20 has a tilting flash head (0–90°), but it doesn’t swivel horizontally.
On the back are all the controls, which comprise a series of clicky buttons and some lovely ‘idiot lights’ that display power settings and operating modes in glorious binary. It looks quite simple but there are a lot of features packed in here.
The secret weapon of the FlashQ Q20 is that it can separate from its hotshoe foot, revealing a FlashQ transmitter. Take the flash off this module and you instantly have a radio-controlled off-camera flash setup!
The flash doesn’t fit as snugly to the transmitter as it could: it wobbles back and forth a bit, which doesn’t really matter for a device this lightweight, but is annoying. So far I don’t think I’ve encountered any times that this has disconnected the electrical contacts between flash and foot, but it is a concern.
The Q20 is made of average-quality plastic. I wouldn’t say it feels solid, but it isn’t flimsy either. The buttons have a nice clicky response to them. The door to the battery compartment, which holds two AAs, is—like on the FlashQ—probably the weakest part of the design and feels like it might break.
In the box, you get the Q20 body, the transmitter/hotshoe module, a pack of colour gels (which neatly slide into the flash fresnel) and a lovely soft drawstring bag to keep everything in.
Overall, what’s striking about the Q20 is its small size and light weight. You can actually fit it in your pocket. And the best light is the one that’s with you…
Features and controls
This is an all-manual flash; no TTL or automatic modes here. But you can control everything. The flash can be adjusted to 1/1, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/16, 1/32 or 1/64 power. The LED lamp on the front also has 7 power levels.
Adjust the flash power up and down by using the left and right arrows, and fire a test flash with the little sunburst button. When you adjust the video light, the Q20 switches into continuous lighting mode and turns on the LED, and when you make a flash adjustment, the video light switches off again.
Handily, you can use the LED as a modelling lamp, so the video lamp stays on and you can still fire the flash. Activate this using the S1 / S2 / Modeling toggle.
There is no zoom or swivel, but you can tilt the flash fresnel up to 90° upwards.
When off-camera, the best way to mount the Q20 is with the 1/4″ thread on the bottom, which lets you attach it to most light stand brackets and tripods. If using the optical slave rather than radio, you’ll still need to remove the FlashQ module because otherwise there isn’t enough clearance to screw anything into the tripod socket.
Given that the hotshoe foot is also a radio trigger, you might be tempted to think that when on-camera, the Q20 is simply receiving extremely short range radio signals. Actually, it’s a bit cleverer than that.
When mounted, the Q20 body becomes a wired flash: it syncs directly through a metal contact in the top of the FlashQ, so it works even if the transmitter is switched off or has no battery in it. So you don’t need any CR2032s for on-camera use and you can switch the transmitter off until you need it. This FlashQ module also has a screw-lock to keep it tight in the hotshoe—something missing from the original FlashQ transmitters.
A killer feature for the Q20 is that it actually has wireless power control for both the flash and the video light. Using the FlashQ transmitter, one tap on the left button decreases power one stop, while a tap on the right button increases power one stop. To fire a test flash, hold down the right-hand (sunburst) button for a second or two. I don’t like this configuration: it seems so unnatural having to hold down a button to get a test pop, and I’d far rather accidentally fire a test flash than accidentally increase power by one stop, but your preferences may vary.
Another gripe with the remote control is that you can’t see the power level of the flash from the camera position, since there is no display on the transmitter. Unless I can see the back of the Q20 from where I am shooting, I sometimes find it easier to adjust the power directly, just to make sure I don’t accidentally bump it up or down one stop too far.
The Q20 is compatible with standard FlashQ transmitters as well; just pair them first by using the appropriate button sequence. Older transmitters support Q20 power control as well; no firmware update is required. One annoying thing I have encountered with the FlashQ system, which I hadn’t really noticed in my previous review, is that because of the way the triggers and receivers are paired to one another, it’s impossible to pair a receiver to more than one transmitter at a time. This means you can’t shoot with more than one camera, or with friends, without passing around a single transmitter.
If there were a way of forcing a transmitter onto a particular channel, this would be useful for those times when you want to trigger the same flash from more than one camera. However, if you only use one camera at a time and don’t share flash setups with friends, this problem won’t affect you.
Performance and usage
Powered by just two AAs, it isn’t meant to offer the brightest output or fastest recycling times, but to complement your small camera well or provide a pocketable extra light source.
Recycling time is indeed a bit glacial, but the Q20 will still fire at less than full charge, which for studio-style shooting might appear to produce inconsistent exposures. I’ve noticed this even when firing at less than full power, which shouldn’t really happen for IGBT flashes, but maybe I needed newer batteries. Give it a good five seconds to recycle for exposure-critical applications. As you might expect, there is no way of adding an external high-voltage battery pack to speed things up.
There are lots of clever features here, but I think Lightpix Labs missed a trick with the power source. Had they gone with a USB-rechargeable lithium ion battery, rather than AAs, then I suspect the performance would be greatly improved. The Godox A1 adopted this technology and I think it’s just a matter of time until other small flashes follow suit.
Triggering range and sync speed is the same as for the FlashQ radio triggers. See the results of my testing in the FlashQ review.
You can abuse this flash a fair bit, with rapid, high-power shooting, though perhaps you shouldn’t. I covered an event using this flash on-camera, taking around 180–200 shots. My camera battery ran out before the Q20’s did! Though there are only two AAs, the relatively low output and small size presumably means that it doesn’t run out too quickly, nor did it overheat during any of my time using it.
It’s also a testament to modern cameras: I was using high Iso sensitivities and wide apertures. You will find yourself very limited by this flash if you want to stop down, use lower Isos, or even use bounce flash in portrait mode (unless you use it wirelessly).
For off-camera purposes, I find that so long as I don’t use the FlashQ Q20 as a main light, then it manages to fill a niche in most setups. I rarely use it at full power, because unless bouncing it off a wall then it only really works as a direct light source— the short stature and lack of a protruding flash head means it won’t work with most speedlight softbox brackets and won’t access things like diffuser attachments.
For the price, you can get a bit more off-camera flash for your money, and size isn’t necessarily the most critical priority for something not mounted on your camera. It isn’t hard to integrate the Q20 with flashes from other brands, thanks to the compatibility with the FlashQ triggering system, as well as the Q20’s optical slave sensor. So while it’s nice to have one of these in your bag, if you want multi-light setups you might get better value out of combining the Q20 with an extra FlashQ receiver and a cheaper flash, or a more powerful off-camera-only one that still fits in your bag.
Recently this flash seems to have been finding its way into most of my setups, especially as a background light, as shown below. The beam angle is reasonably wide so a distance of about one metre is enough to give a headshot a white background (with a bit of cleaning round the edges in post processing).
The included gels are really, really nice to have. There is a good range of colours and they are so easy to insert and remove from the flash head. For backgrounds, the blue one works well. My only criticism would be that the position of the LED lamp means you can’t put gels over the continuous light as well (without an extra set of gels and some tape).
A possible flaw—at least when using the Q20 as a background light, is the optical slave sensor being positioned on the front. Since the flash head can’t swivel, it limits the positions and angles you can put the Q20 in and still have the sensor detect your other flashes going off. However, I wouldn’t consider this a deal breaker: optical slaves are unreliable anyway and it’s probably a better idea—assuming you aren’t triggering everything with FlashQs—simply to stack the FlashQ transmitter on top of one of your other-brand radio triggers and use it as a relay.
I didn’t shoot any videos using the LED lamp, but it’s a lot brighter than you might expect. It’s handy as a focussing aid, if not as modelling lamp, since it isn’t covered by gels and doesn’t always point in the same direction as the flash head.
The Lightpix Labs FlashQ Q20 is a really clever little device, and one of the most innovative products I have seen for photographers who use small cameras. I find myself taking it everywhere. It’s not the most powerful unit, the most durable, the most feature-packed or the cheapest, but it is a pleasure to use, and there is always room for it since it literally fits in your pocket. It’s just a lot of fun.
My main criticisms of the FlashQ system would be the inability to use two transmitters on the same channel, the slow recycling with AAs and the slightly fiddly nature of remote power control.
But if you travel light, use a small camera and aren’t already heavily invested in a radio triggering system, get one of these. I probably wouldn’t get a second Q20, however: instead buy some extra FlashQ receivers and some secondary flashes that are cheaper or more powerful and can be used with modifiers.
The sample in this review was provided by UKphotodistro, who sell on eBay. You can also buy the FlashQ Q20 directly through LightPix Labs: $69 for the black version and $75 for the white one. In the USA, get yours from B&H Photo.
Did I miss anything? What do you think of this flash? Let me know in the comments below.